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June 14 2011

23:19

Climate Change and the West: A Picture of the Western United States in the Coming Decades


Fire rages in ArizonaOver the last several years, a picture has emerged of the American west in a climate-changed world.

Water
Last week findings of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey show a sharp decline in the snowpack of the northern Rocky Mountains over the past 30 years. Published in the journal Science, the study says the “almost unprecedented” decline, as compared with data analyzed for snowpack conditions over the past 800 years, could have severe consequences for more than 70 million people dependent on water supply from the Columbia, Colorado, and Missouri rivers – all three of which are fed from high-mountain snowpack runoff. But this is only a part of the emerging picture of a changing west.

Wildfire
The mega-fire burning in Arizona, raging for more than two weeks, has now crossed into New Mexico. With over 469,000 acres consumed, the fire is now the largest on record for Arizona.

While no single fire is “caused by global warming” – such an assertion is a fundamental misunderstanding of climate change – projections call for more frequent and intense wildfires as conditions in the west become hotter and drier. Recent years have brought record years for wildfires in California and throughout the west.

The fire in Arizona (and now New Mexico) demonstrates the impact such conflagrations have on air quality. The damage caused by such intense firestorms is more than the fire itself. Beyond the short-term consequence of smoke and ash, wildfires become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in a warmer environment. A new study, published in the journal PLos ONE, shows that wildfires not only release GHG through burning through forests, but also as a result of the aftermath of the fire, where “dentrifier” bacteria can lead to increased nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from plant material. N2O is a greenhouse gas with a potency 300 times that of CO2.

But even without the raging, all-consuming firestorms, trees are dying at record numbers throughout the western United States.

Forest health

GlobalWarmingisReal has reported on several occasions on the growing and pervasive infestation of bark beetles throughout western forests of North America. Millions of acres have been lost to the infestation, impacting entire ecosystems and threatening forest health throughout the west. Warmer winters allow the beetle to survive winter and move to higher ground, where trees are defenseless to the infestation.

A picture emerges

Climate plays out in decades, centuries and patterns develop, sometimes subtly or almost imperceptibly. And sometimes not so subtly. The realization of what could be more to come frames a picture of a parched, dry, tinderbox west, with vast swaths of disease-ridden forest clinging to life.

The fire in Arizona is not global warming, nor is a dead tree or one season of runoff (unusually large this year, and contrary to the larger trend). But there is always a point where the pattern does emerge, and this is the picture of the American west in the 21st century. Ignoring it will only make it worse.

Sources and further reading:
NASA Wildfire Model
Daily Kos – Climate Change and Record Winter Wildfires
NOAA – State of the Climate
The Watchers – Wildfires burn across Northern America continent

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Enhanced by ZemantaImage credit: deborah.soltesz, courtesy flickr

November 11 2010

22:05

New Research Shows Increased Risk of Wildfire from Global Warming


Climate change will lead to more wildfiresTwo research scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies have recently concluded a study showing that climate change could likely become the principal driver for future wildfires if current CO2 levels continue to rise unabated.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, human activity – such as setting and suppressing wildfires – has been a primary driver in wildfire trends. Using new techniques to track fires, researchers Olga Pechony and Drew Shindell have developed the first long-term history of global wildfire patterns and trends. Using the historical information and satellite data, the team has forecasted fire trends to 2100, based on current and expected levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The study finds that without significant reductions of carbon, climate change will become the principal driver of wildfires in the coming decades, with rising temperatures and drought leading to a propensity of more intense and frequent fires.

Pechony and Shindell said that wildfire trends will vary regionally (as is to be expected), with decreases in some areas and increases from 5 to 35 percent in others – particularly in the western and southern United States, Australia, northern parts of Asia, and the southern tip of Africa.

Given this evidence, Pachony suggests increased awareness and education about wildfires are a prudent course of action:

“It’s likely that we will not only have to reduce emissions, but also improve strategies to prevent and suppress fires,” she said.

The research was published last month in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences

Sources and further reading:
Arizona Daily Sun
Sierra Journal
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

22:05

New Research Shows Increased Risk of Wildfire from Global Warming


Climate change will lead to more wildfiresTwo research scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies have recently concluded a study showing that climate change could likely become the principal driver for future wildfires if current CO2 levels continue to rise unabated.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, human activity – such as setting and suppressing wildfires – has been a primary driver in wildfire trends. Using new techniques to track fires, researchers Olga Pechony and Drew Shindell have developed the first long-term history of global wildfire patterns and trends. Using the historical information and satellite data, the team has forecasted fire trends to 2100, based on current and expected levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The study finds that without significant reductions of carbon, climate change will become the principal driver of wildfires in the coming decades, with rising temperatures and drought leading to a propensity of more intense and frequent fires.

Pechony and Shindell said that wildfire trends will vary regionally (as is to be expected), with decreases in some areas and increases from 5 to 35 percent in others – particularly in the western and southern United States, Australia, northern parts of Asia, and the southern tip of Africa.

Given this evidence, Pachony suggests increased awareness and education about wildfires are a prudent course of action:

“It’s likely that we will not only have to reduce emissions, but also improve strategies to prevent and suppress fires,” she said.

The research was published last month in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences

Sources and further reading:
Arizona Daily Sun
Sierra Journal
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

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